Updated: Sep 7
I have been meaning to write this article about custom draperies for a while now, because it is one of those categories in decorating a home that is most often misunderstood.
I often find myself overcoming objections from clients who just don't see the need to invest in them. There are objections ranging from - I already have blinds to, they are a dust magnet, and the big one - they are too expensive.
Most homeowners don't understand the importance of custom drapery in a well-designed room, or they assume that they are just an unnecessary expense. I won't get into the reasons why aesthetically and functionally they are necessary, since I already wrote about that in this article. Instead, I will cover why they cost what they do, since that is where I hear the biggest objections
Hiring a professional matters
Some homeowners are surprised by the fact that we charge a consultation fee to travel to their home to offer ideas, resources, and take measurements of their windows. They are mostly accustomed to a local workroom coming in to take measurements to provide them with a free quote later.
They usually leave it up to the homeowner to choose whatever fabric and style they want from their limited selections, without much input and guidance from them. Their main goal is to sell any window treatment - the more expensive the better, but often times nothing else is being considered. I am sure there are exceptions to this, but in general, that is what you will find when you have someone visit your home for a fee consultation for window treatments.
We don't operate that way. We know that the minute we show up to your home, we will not only take the measurements, but we will offer solutions for your windows. And not only that, as designers, we are looking at the room as a whole and not just the windows. Your window treatments are just one element of the room, so it has to work with everything else that you either already have going on in the space, or have planned for the space. We have a vast library of fabrics at our disposable, and lots of experience designing, fabricating and installing custom window treatments.
We value your time and want to make sure the time we spend together is valuable to you. We freely give ideas and explore options, and therefore compensation for our time is required
Anyone can sell you window treatments, but only a professional will make sure the are perfectly tailored for your windows, you have chosen the right fabric for your specific application, your functional needs are taken into consideration, and the entire room is considered.
You can read more HERE about why window treatments are serious business
There are a few reasons that window treatments cost what they do, but the cost is very much in line with the quality of the product you will get. Let's look at a few of the reasons
Fabric choice matters
I was recently at a client's home and she had called in a local drapery workroom to do her window treatments prior to calling me in for her furnishings. They had just been installed a week prior. I noticed right away that the bottom of the drapery panels were "being trained". This means that the seamstress had gathered all the pleats at the bottom of each panel, and loosely tied them so that they would stay in place. This is a process that usually happens at the workroom before installation
About a week later I went back to the client's home, and the draperies were no longer there. She mentioned to me that her seamstress had come back out, taken them down and she was going to be changing the header to a different style. The header is the pleating detail at the top of the panels. On another visit to the client's home the draperies were rehung but they still had the same issue that they were so diligent in trying to resolve. The pleats at the bottom of the panels were not hanging straight. They flared out on the sides at the bottom of each panel.
Since my client asked my opinion on what I thought about her new draperies, I was very honest with her. I told her that they had chosen the wrong type of fabric. They had chosen a polyester fabric and no matter what they did with that particular fabric, it would never hang straight. Not only that, she had chosen to go with a short panels on a two story window to save money, which looked very odd in the space
The workroom she dealt with unfortunately did a very poor job of guiding her into making the right choice, and they basically just wanted to sell the job, so they offered the client something that was perhaps in her budget range instead of offering expert advice. There are a lot of factors to consider when it comes to choosing fabrics, and the beauty of the fabric is not the most important factor.
There are different applications obviously - if you are installing draperies in a formal living room, you may want something very structured, or in a casual sitting room, something a bit more free flowing and gauzy. It takes an expert eye and knowledge of fabric properties to help you make the right selection for fabric for your custom drapery. I am a big believer, and most of my clients appreciate this, that even if an item might push you over budget a bit, it is good to at least explore it. I know personally I would rather know all my options so I can make an educated decision.
The bottom line is that the fabric type is very important to the way the drapery will look, and of course fabric choice directly affects the cost. Fabric is the biggest piece of the cost breakdown for custom draperies. There is also the style chosen, hardware, labor and installation
The workroom should have directed the client to maybe a polyester/cotton blend or a polyester/linen blend. The natural content of the cotton and linen will help the manmade synthetic polyester fibers hang better
A good quality drapery fabric usually starts at around $50 per yard retail and can significantly go up from there
The height of your windows matter
I had a call recently from a gentleman who needed help with some curtains he purchased at a big box retail store. He wanted to know if the two panels he bought could be somehow sewn together to make them into a longer panel for his two story windows.
I am all about stretching your decorating dollars, but that is not the way to do it. It is probably safe to say that those two story windows are most likely a big focal point in the room, so store bought curtains that have to be sewn together to make one panel would stick out like a sore thumb.
Store bought curtains can never be expected to do what custom draperies can. They are mass produced and only come in standard lengths 63", 84", 95", 96" and 108". A two story window is probably going to be over 200"at the least; an average of about 216". I am sure that I don't have to state the obvious that if you sew two curtains together, you will see a seam running across it in the center of the curtain panel, and that is a dead giveaway that they were not designed for the window.
Store bought curtains are also not usually adequately lined and interlined. The pleating at the header (if one exists) is usually sloppy and not tailored with buckram. They are also usually not wide enough and they don't have drapery weights sewn into the hem. These are just some of the important pieces that come together to make up custom tailored drapery panels designed for your particular window. Store bought curtains don't take into account that the wall and floor are never level and there has to be some tweaking onsite at installation
That is what you pay for when you hire a professional to design and fabricate your custom drapery. We consider all these factors after carefully assessing your windows and the surrounding walls, ceiling and floor
In some cases we do color-block drapery panels, but those also require a design plan to make sure the seams fall in just the right place on the walls, or the proportions work well overall
Now consider what it takes to install two story drapery panels. Its is a much bigger undertaking than most homeowners realize and therefore they question the cost.
Some brave installer has to get up on a ladder (or scaffolding) to install your new custom draperies. He has to have a vehicle big enough to transport a very large ladder. He has to have insurance. It will take a lot more time than lower windows and it requires specialized tools to ensure the hardware is properly secured to the walls
The window style matters
I have seen homeowners with very complicated or unconventional type windows either try to go the store bought route, or ignore their windows altogether. The beauty about custom draperies is that they don't have to look like they were complicated. They can be simple but be the perfect solution to a challenging window. They just need to complete the look of the room beautifully and add functionality if needed in the space. The more complicated the window, the more time and effort that goes into the design and fabrication, and naturally the bigger the price tag
If you have a curve wall of windows or bay windows, that can also add to the complexity and having to design a custom solution. When you have a curved window wall for example, you definitely want your rod to be a custom rod designed to follow the curve of the wall.
This means that your designer or drapery workroom needs to create a template of the curve to send to the manufacturer to custom bend a metal rod. A template is basically taking brown butcher paper and laying it out on the floor or ceiling where the wall curves and tracing the curve on the paper. It also usually requires carefully labelling where window openings are and where each bracket needs to be installed.
In the case of a bay window that has angles versus a curve, special corner adaptors are usually required to create a better flow, or the illusion of a continuous rod.
These are things that only an expert will notice and design around. And these are things that add to the cost of custom drapery
The functionality matters
I have met with many homeowners who initially ask for functional drapery panels without realizing that they may not need them. Functional panels mean that the panels are designed to open and close with ease for privacy and light control.
What that usually means is that there is a lot more fabric required to fabricate the panels where they still have fullness even when they are in the closed position. The last thing you want is when you pull your panels close, they look flat and have no folds and fullness. Of course more fabric means a bigger price tag.
Also, the last thing you would want to do is to tug on the panels everyday to open and close them, so you will want to make sure they are installed on a traverse rod. A traverse rod is a rod that has small carriers that glide across the rod when a cord is pulled. Kinda like hotel curtains. This means that you can easily open and close your drapery panels without ever touching the actual draperies. A traversing rod system will cost more than a regular rod. Drapery hardware in general can add up very quickly, and freight costs can be significant if you need to have a continuous long rod for a wide wall.
As experts, we even take that into account and design the rods to cut at just the right location where it can be covered and supported by brackets. That eliminates the need in some cases for having to purchase one long rod and pay additional freight costs.
In most cases, clients already have the privacy or light control layer and don't need to do functional panels. Or the design might make more sense to add shades or shutters for the privacy and light control layer. There can be significant savings by not going with functional drapery panels
The drapery style matters
Of course there are lots of drapery styles to choose from; some more complicated than others. These days, with more casual lifestyles, most homes call for simple drapery panels or maybe the addition of a top treatment like a box pleat valance or cornice board.
I love a layered look, so adding a shade beneath drapery panels is a great look.
Of course the more layers you add, the more it will cost. Cornice boards usually require precision cuts to create, and therefore a lot more time with labor at the workroom. Depending on the size and material, they can also be very heavy, which affects the cost of installation. Roman shades can also be time consuming to create, so labor and installation plays a major role in the cost of custom drapery
If you look at the rooms in your home and feel that something is missing, chances are you do not have custom draperies.
A well designed and executed drapery treatment can be the crown jewel in any room. Don't be deterred by the thought that it might be expensive. Have us come out and help you decide the best treatment and how much of an investment you can expect to make - a good range to consider for a pair of drapery panels for a one story wall is $1500 to about $4000 depending on fabric and hardware.
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Wishing You Beauty And Inspiration!